Culinary Nutrition Guide to Chili Peppers: Health Benefits and Best Uses

They say variety is the spice of life – but actual spicy foods can add a kick to your day and offer a bunch of culinary nutrition benefits to boot. Chili peppers may seem daunting, especially to those with a low tolerance for spiciness. Yet there are many delicious (and mild) ways to enjoy chili peppers in your cooking, and in this guide we lay out great chili pepper options, how to eat chili peppers safely, and recipe inspiration for some of our favourite varieties.

Culinary Nutrition Guide to Chili Peppers

Culinary Nutrition Benefits of Chili Peppers

Chili Peppers

Chili peppers are an invigorating food for the palate and your health! One of the primary beneficial compounds in chili peppers is called capsaicin, which lends peppers their spicy flavour and is also responsible for their health effects. Some of the culinary nutrition benefits of chili peppers include:

What About the Nightshade Factor?

Peppers are part of the nightshade family, which can influence inflammatory pathways in certain conditions for some people. Nightshades can be a tricky food category to navigate, since they also have a multitude of beneficial properties. As you can see in the section above, chili peppers are good for us in many ways. If you’re dealing with inflammation, try cutting chili peppers out for a month and see if it makes a difference. You can also rotate peppers in your diet, choosing to have them on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, or another rotation of your preference.

How to Increase Tolerance to Chili Peppers

Guide to Chili Peppers

Spicy food isn’t for everyone, but if you’re not used to it there are ways to increase your tolerance.

  • Use small amounts – start off with adding just a pinch to your recipes.
  • Try the milder peppers first (see more about that below).
  • Repeat exposure on a regular basis.
  • Have a spicy condiment on the side, like kimchi or hot sauce, that people can add to their meal to taste (this is a great tip for families who like to cook and eat together).
  • Remove the seeds from chili peppers, which are the spiciest part.
  • Pair chili peppers with gluten-free bread, rice or other gluten-free grains, which can help to disperse the capsaicin and depress the spicy taste.

If you’ve added too much spice to your dish, you can tone it down by adding:

Chili Pepper Safety

When cooking with chili peppers, especially the very hot ones, it’s important to prep them safely so you avoid burning your hands, eyes or other mucous membranes. One experience with burning hands is enough – you’ll never make the same mistake again!

Your first line of defence is using food safety gloves when cutting and handling peppers. This will protect you from the compounds that may potentially burn your skin. If you handle peppers with your bare hands, be sure to wash them extremely well after chopping – don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth or they will feel the burn too.

If you happen to burn your hands, some of the following topical remedies may work:

  • Baking soda and water
  • Olive oil
  • Milk or yogurt
  • Dish soap
  • Raw honey
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Varieties of Chili Peppers + how to use them

Guide to Chili Peppers

There are dozens of varieties of chili peppers and we’re highlighting some of the common ones found in many grocery stores. Depending on where you live, there may be additional or different types. We’ve categorized them by mild, medium and hot – though each person’s spice tolerance will be different. Before trying a new pepper, be sure to check out its Scoville score, which measures its spiciness and will give you an idea of how mild or hot it may taste.

Very, Very Mild

Bell Pepper

Guide to Chili Peppers

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 0

Best Uses: Soups, stews, pizza topping, omelettes, stuffed with fillings such as rice (or cauliflower rice), beans, or meat, eaten raw with dips like hummus or guacamole, pasta, lasagna

Recipe to Try: Egg Emojis by Alica Diehl (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)


Mild Chili Peppers

Shishito Pepper

Guide to Chili Peppers

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 50-200

Best Uses: Grilled on their own, stir-fries, gluten-free noodle bowls, salsas, alongside braised or slow-cooked meat or vegetables

Recipe to Try: Blistered Shishito Peppers by Food Banjo


Pimiento (or Pimento)

Guide to Chili Peppers

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 100-500

Best Uses: Blended into dips, spreads and sauces, dairy-free cheese recipes, sandwich, salad or pizza topping, stuffed into olives, fish seasoning, chopped into cooked beans and legumes

Recipe to Try: Paleo Pimiento Cashew Cheese Dip by Nyssa’s Kitchen


Banana

Banana Pepper and Tomato Baked Chicken

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 0-500

Best Uses: Pickled, salad, sandwich or pizza topping, stuffed with fillings, salsas, hot sauces

Recipe to Try: Banana Pepper and Tomato Baked Chicken by Strength and Sunshine


Poblano

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 1000 – 2000

Best Uses: Stuffed with fillings, salsas, tacos, burritos, meat stews, chilis, dairy-free cheese recipes

Recipe to Try: Roasted Stuff Poblanos with Smoky Quinoa, Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans by Vanilla and Bean


Medium Chili Peppers

Jalapeño

Guacamole with Green Apple and Jalapeno

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 2,500 – 8,000

Best Uses: Salsas, chilis, dips, stuffed or baked, pickled, soups, sauces, salad dressings, chili paste, pepper jelly

Recipe to Try: Guacamole with Green Apple and Jalapeño by Sweet Lizzy (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)


Chipotle

Veggie Burrito Bowl

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 2,500 – 8,000

Best Uses: These are jalapeños that have been ripened, smoked and dried – adds a wonderful smoky flavour to chilis, salsas, dips and spreads, burgers, BBQ sauce, baked beans and legumes, refried beans

Recipe to Try: Veggie Burrito Bowls by Sheena Scott (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)


Serrano

Guide to Chili Peppers

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 10,000 – 23,000

Best Uses: Salsas, hot sauces, sandwich or pizza topping, dips, marinades

Recipe to Try: Spicy Lemon Parsley Dipping Sauce by Recipe Fiction


Cayenne

Fire Cider

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 30,000-50,000

Best Uses: Chilis, burritos, tacos, salsas, curries (Indian or Thai), soups, dips, sauces, marinades, hot chocolate

Recipe to Try: Fire Cider by Academy of Culinary Nutrition

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Hot Chili Peppers

Thai Chili

Fermented Sriracha

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 50,000 – 100,000

Best Uses: Curry pastes, sauces, marinades, hot sauces

Recipe to Try: Fermented Sriracha by Keto Diet App


Scotch Bonnet

Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 100,000 – 350,000

Best Uses: Hot sauces, marinades, Caribbean cooking

Recipe to Try: Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce by dpm does


Habanero

Chili Peppers Guide

Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 100,000 – 350,000

Best Uses: Hot sauce, marinades, Caribbean cooking

Recipe to Try: Tropical Jamaican Pepper Sauce by Kevin is Cooking

Hot chili peppers can add heat and health benefits to your everyday cooking and you don’t need to consume a lot of them, either. Experiment with pepper varieties that you enjoy and branch out to explore more varieties in intriguing and delicious ways.

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Chili pepper guide

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